Sermon for ECHO memory weekend and the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B; October 20-21, 2018
Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
This double-level roasting pot is one of my prized possessions. It used to be my mom’s, but she gave it to me last year. I asked for it because I have so many fond memories tied to it. In my home growing up, we ALWAYS went to church. And after church, we almost always came back home for Sunday dinner. As I remember it we’d come home from church, leaving our dress clothes on, and divide up the getting-ready jobs (setting the table, preparing any side dishes, pouring the “ice tea”). And we’d eat a Sunday roast that had been cooking in this roaster while we were out. I am very glad to have the memories tied to it. Maybe our son will want it someday, so he can feed his family!
I have my own memories about this roaster, but I wanted to hear my mom’s, so I asked. I wrote an email asking for the recipe for her Sunday roast, and for any stories she had about it. In her reply she told me she had purchased it when she was in high school from a home demonstration salesman. It was like a version her own mother was using to feed their family.
As for the recipe, my mom said she usually looked for the cheapest but largest chuck-roast that would fit in the bottom of the pan to feed us all. She put the meat in the bottom, with some soy sauce and garlic powder or other simple, easy seasonings, like the rest of the morning coffee. Then this steamer layer fit over that. She usually filled this layer packed full of washed potatoes with the skins still on them, and then put the cover on top and popped it in the oven, cooking for the several hours we’d be gone to church. Therefore, my family had roast beef and baked potatoes, with sides such as broccoli, salad, and biscuits, every Sunday. We used the best china and crystal, and we all ate together (even if the Cowboys were playing already!), and then we cleaned up while my mom got a well-deserved nap.
I can’t quite describe how important those memories are to me. Those meals tied our family together even when we were in high school and busy, busy, busy! Those meals were sacred, especially since they were tied to the Sunday School and worship we had just attended. It was around that table that I learned to pray “off the cuff”—possibly naming people who needed help, and always thanking God for the incredible bounty we were about to eat. Therefore, in a sense, those meals proved to be central in my call to ministry. I wanted to become a pastor because doing that would help more and more people have memories like I had, of families gathering in the name of the Lord, possibly even over a Sunday chuck roast.
This weekend we’re focusing on stories and memories, with the loss of those stories and memories that certainly can come. In our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, we hear the Jewish people reminding themselves about their own story—how they had made other things more important than God and lost sight of God’s promises for them. They paid the price for that sin—losing their Temple, losing their homes, and being taken away to a foreign land—Babylon—as servants. But God saw their confession and suffering and brought them home and led them to walk again as children of the Light.
Now if they lost their place of worship and spent generations away from being able to worship and follow God’s Law in their own communities, how did the people even know who the God of the Israelites was? How does anyone remember things? They told stories. You may know some of them—how Queen Esther remembered and protected the Jews; how the young man named Daniel put God above the king and faced the lions because of it; or that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked in the fiery furnace with God himself and helped the king learn who God was? Those stories reminded the Israelites where they came from and to whom they belonged, even when there wasn’t an Israel to gather them.
Our stories work that way. Our stories remind us of our past and point us into the future. And our memories keep those stories alive. I know, we are fortunate now, to have books and emails like the one from my mom to help us keep our stories. And we might be lucky enough to have things—like this roaster, a photo, something special to help us remember. Do you have something to tie you to your story and the stories of your past? They are precious to us, special, and powerful!
However, we all know those things face. A fire, war, or hurricane can wipe out our stuff. Like the ancient Jews, our lack of care and priorities can take away our church building and history books. And, of course, we will not remember all our stories. Time and new information seem to squeeze stories out of even the healthiest minds; carelessness keeps us from sharing our stories or getting them from others; menopause and stress cut into the memories, at least for a time. But those seem to pale in comparison to the permanent, physical memory losses that are so destructive—Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia that rob us of our own stories—even our names and the faces of those closest to us. Oh my, what trouble those diseases cause! Oh, what pain they cause us and those close to us!
We cry out, Lord, have mercy on us! Help us! Heal us and those we love!
And just as God heard the Jewish people, so God also hears us. We serve a God of love who is with us through it all, and Alzheimer’s is no exception. However, just as God did not rewind the clock and undo all that had been done during the exile, so also are there long-term effects from our losses. But if God doesn’t give us back our stories, what is the point? And what can be done? As for the point, I do not know; I trust that God will guide us to that wisdom someday. But I can hazard a guess that it might be connected to what we can do about it. Knowing we will lose our stories can help us prepare for that loss of memory. Take a moment to evaluate your priorities and ask God and the church community to guide you. Call up Marie Washington or another attorney to write that will. Do your Financial Peace homework to prepare for the worst. Exercise and take care of the rest of your physical health. Do puzzles and brain strengthening.
Funny thing though—you’re already doing one of the most important things current research says to do—you’re here in church, which pushes your brain with multi-sensory inputs, mixed-up details, and plenty of memory challenges! So, stay connected to this community, and have fun doing it! Walk for Alzheimer’s research funds like Paul and Sandee did this weekend, join a support group, pray for each other. All of these are things we can do, and the ECHO senior ministry of Our Saviour has some activities this weekend to help with that. Tell your stories! Listen to each other’s stories! These things we can do, to hold back the forces that will tear away our memories.
As good as those things are, the bigger point is this: everything on this earth is temporary. The Bible tells us, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” Even my roaster will rust and decay at some point! I am very grateful for it and for my memories of all those Sunday dinners and vital family time. But if I forget those, aren’t they still part of the future? Those meals led me to become a pastor, which led me to seminary to meet my husband and build our family and build the church, passing on the story of God’s love for us all. I guess I’m saying that this roaster and stories about it are only a part of the bigger story, and my memories of that story—even though they will be forgotten someday—still affect life today in the connections they made. My place in God’s big story is forever, even if I forget. Suddenly, the eternal mind of God takes on new importance in our stories! Your place in God’s big story is also permanent, as temporary as it may seem. What we do changes the world forever, in ways we cannot even imagine.
You have been claimed as a child of the Light, and no one and nothing can take that away. Let us live, even when memory fades and recognition falters. Let us live, even with broken hearts as we grieve the stories lost to those we love, knowing that God walks with us every step of the way, and carries us—and remembers for us—when we cannot walk, cannot remember, on our own. Let us trust that in the Spirit of God, the past and future mingle into one amazing story of God’s love for all of us, now and forever. Amen.